Chris Paul’s Edge

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Published: May 6, 2008

It started last night about six posessions in.  As Bruce Bowen started to run down the court after a made Hornets basket, Chris Paul casually stepped in front of him and delivered a hard bump.  Bowen flailed a little, raised his hands in the air, and continued down court, making no eye contact.  Paul 'stumbled' and picked up his man, a smirk on his face.  As the game wore on, Bowen wore himself out tracking the  six foot guard through screens, high picks, and the open floor.  Throughout, he was on the receiving end of forearms, elbows, and contact of every description.  Frequently as Paul scored on his way to thirty points, he'd give Bowen a stare.  For Bowen, a primier defender famed for aggressiveness, the aggression was all flowing the wrong way, and you could tell it took him completely off guard.

This wasn't the first time Paul had taken it to Bowen.  There was the incident that got Bowen his first career suspension – when Paul refused to lie down while Bowen straddled him, delivering several forearm blows to Bowens legs and instigating Bowen's retaliation with his knee.  Earlier in the year was an even better example – and one of my favorite anecdotes about Paul:

Bowen had been switched on to Paul at the start of the third quarter, and was delivering his usual hard-nosed defense, slapping, poking, bodying up, and generally harassing Paul.  On one pick-and-roll, Bowen followed Paul over a pick, and when Paul was brought up short by a hard show, Bowen closed up behind him and then delivered three sharp smacks into the small of Paul's back.  It was like he was playing the drums.  The Ref, however, was directly behind Bowen, and couldn't see him do it.  Paul dumped the ball to West and let the ref hear it as he ran down court.  Next time down, Paul took a hard forearm from Bowen as he split a double, stumbled and almost lost his dribble.  Again, he finished the play and then screamed at the ref.  No whistle.  So Paul decided to get Bowen off him.

Catching the ball at midcourt, he dribbled right at Bowen and turned his back.  Bowen immediately closed in, hovering over him and slapping at Paul's shoulders and arms.  Paul stepped in closer to Bowen, and then swung his off arm, ostensibly to clear away Bowen's flailing arms.  But he wasn't going for Bowen's arms.  Instead, he caught Bowen right in the side of the head with a open-handed smack.  Bowen stumbled.  Paul got an offensive foul.  Bowen backed off a little, and then Hornets blew the game open.

That nastiness – and desire to take a challenge personally – is the font of the greatness that is Chris Paul.   It's his edge, and what allows him to dominate when he's the smallest person on the court, to challenge for the MVP in only his third year, and to propel the Hornets through a tough Western Conference that gameplans religiously at trying to slow him down. 

These playoffs, he's letting that nasty streak hang out.  Already you can see signs he's morphing from the golden boy even opposing team fans were interested to see to the player those fans hate with a passion.  A passion made even more intense because they know they'd love him if he was on their team.

I know I do.

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